Lost in the BIG picture


Cue background music


Remember that incredibly exciting new company I raved about?

Well, it’s all over. :(

It came crashing down last week.

Not because I missed a detail.

But because I didn’t fit the BIG picture.

Fifteen hours of my life down the drain.

Two thousand bucks in revenue – gone.

May this lesson save you a similar heartache.



They say three’s a crowd.

In this case, it was me, the company and their BIG Picture Guy (BPG) – a consultant.

The BPG wanted a BIG ad for a BIG campaign.

But on researching the company’s website, I found a dearth of supporting data.

I argued that without this, prospects sent to the website by the BIG ad would land, look, laugh and leave.

The BPG agreed, so I immediately fired a salvo of questions to elicit the missing info.

My questions were so technical, the BPG referred me straight to the company – with whom I soon developed effective rapport.



Once I had enough info, I emailed my new web content idea.

The company was delighted.

The BPG didn’t reply.

With time short, and thinking the company took precedence over the BPG, I pressed on.

Big mistake.

Two days later, I proudly presented the draft web copy from which the BIG ad could now be distilled.

The BPG was NOT impressed.

Where was the BIG ad?!

I reiterated that, to be effective, BIG ads (especially technical ones) should evolve from a bedrock of facts.

He replied that the facts could come later, and that the ad came first.

I asked what the company thought.

He said they were out of town, and the he was calling the BIG shots.

I realised then that we’d approached this project from opposite and irreconcilable ends of the spectrum.



The BPG asked if I wished to revisit the brief at my expense.

With heavy heart and stung pride, I declined.

He said he’d have trouble justifying payment for my work thus far.

I agreed that, though I’d delivered vital website content, I’d made two technical errors:

  1. I’d forgotten that, for the purpose of this exercise, the BPG was my client – not the company.
  2. I’d failed to deliver a BIG ad, as clearly specified in the brief.

It didn’t matter that I was sure the company would love what I’d done, once they saw it.

Or that I’d bet my house the BPG was doing his client a disservice by putting the cart before the horse.

I’d let professional pride cloud reality.



And so I won’t charge. (Unless, of course, my web copy appears down the track.)

As this bitter pill burns my guts, I recall a line from the BPG’s request for quotation:

‘I need a copywriter who can take direction, and is not precious.’

I thought I could, and wasn’t.

But I couldn’t, and was.



What do you think?

Has this ever happened to you?



| Founder & Senior Writer – The Feisty Empire

  • Hi Paul and all,

    When your own expertise and standards exceed those of your client, it can be difficult to resist delivering ‘what you think they should want’ rather than delivering ‘what they want’. We had a saying back in the IT consulting business days – “if they ask for a paper plane, don’t deliver them the space shuttle”. Sure, space shuttles are awesome, but they pobably don’t want/need one. It’s always good to ask questions and make suggestions but dangerous to presume. If you like to “under-promise and over-deliver” it’s usually safer to do this with super service and beating deadlines rather than giving the client something different than they expected, even if different = more.

    You story here reminded me in part of one of your previous posts ‘Fragging the Elephant” – https://www.myob.com/au/blog/fragging-the-elephant/. There are some parallels there in terms of being mindful about who it is in your client’s business that calls the shots and makes descisions on suppliers; ensuring they are the ones you engage with in the first instance (if required), keep in the loop, keep in mind when producing your work, and, ultimately, keep happy.

    :) Jas.

    • What a wise, funny and insightful comment, Jas! Your paper plane saying made me laugh out loud. Thank you for giving a damn and adding such great value. :)

  • G’Day Paul,
    Of bloody course it’s happened to most of us; i’m sure. And it’s at least partly, if not totally,our fault. No use crying over spilt milk mate.

    If you want the secret to selling big ticket stuff in a long sales cycle get hold of a copy of “Spin Selling” by Neil Rackham. And look up Huthwaite Asia Pacific on Google and subscribe to their blog.

    That’s just for starters. And don’t let it happen again.

    Aint consulting fun?

    • Hiya, Leon; I hear you. I’ve spent the last few days furiously recouping my losses. Fortunately, the work is pouring in. So I’m very happy not to be wasting even more time with free rewrites.

      Like the routines on So You Think You Can Dance, consulting is indeed ‘light and shade’! Thank you for playing. :)

  • Malcolm Owens

    Hi Paul,

    Meeting the customer’s expectations is the name of the game. I hate it when we brief an agency and they come back with something that they think is a better solution than what is briefed. This maybe a problem with the briefing process but we usually have a pretty good idea of what’s required.

    I don’t mind if a supplier does what is asked but also offers an alternative for consideration on the basis that if it’s used we then pay for the head time. It’s a two sided blade – overstep the mark by adding what you believe will be better or following the brief exactly and delivering something below par.

    The first feels better, the second pays better. Particularly when they say up front that they want someone who can take direction.

    • Thank you, Malcolm. We needed your client perspective to keep it real in the house. It sure is hard to be wrong. I sure as hell won’t make this mistake again in a hurry!

  • Hi Paul,
    Commiserations to you, I appreciate how dedicated and hard working you are.
    Maybe you could rephrase your thoughts and not think you were wrong, just over zealous.
    I used to train people’s horses to how I wanted them; alert to every cue I might give and responsive to my direction as soon as I thought about it.
    When many horses returned for more training I realised I needed to desensitise these owner’s horses so they ignored their random, haphazard movements and remained patient while waiting for a direction they could understand.
    My big lesson was…’not everybody wants what I want even though I have more experience than them’.
    I admire your enthusiasm and eye for detail and believe how much we get paid (or not) for something is not the measure of our success.
    If you gave 100% of your effort and weren’t trying to be better than someone else to prove a point…you were successful.
    If your ego blurred your judgement and you’ve learnt valuable lessons… even more success.
    BTW I really enjoy Pulse but don’t often have time to comment.
    Best Wishes,

    • Wonderful to see you back, Judy. I appreciate how extraordinarily busy you are.

      I love your analogy, and your analysis has enabled me to draw even more value from this difficult lesson.

      Many thanks for your kind words! :)

  • All good thoughts from yourself and other commenters, but I propose this view on the issue: you shouldn’t be ashamed of doing good work.

    Maybe in this case it wasn’t successful, but if you do good work, the right way, often enough, you’ll be happier in your heart and have better long-term relationships.

    • That is so true, Belinda! As with the elephant I fragged the other month, I do feel pleased not to be wasting my days with folk who aren’t on the same page.

      Life’s too short not to hang with smart, trusting, gracious and grateful clients who DO get your drift. Many thanks for your welcome illumination! :)

  • Holy smokes, Paul! I’m used to you laying it on the line with brutal honesty, but I really feel your pain here.

    As Leon points out above, yes, we have all made this mistake before.

    The golden rule is always ensure that the person responsible for paying you is happy. If you can’t do that, for whatever reason, move on.

    At least you have plenty of other work.

    • Hi, Stephen. This sure wasn’t a fun one to write. But, like an arrow in your ‘ead, it’s awfully good to get it out.

      And the reactions we’re getting today are quite lovely! 😀

  • It’s a great case study Paul – there’s been some great comments from both side of the fence here!

    I’ve been both the client, and the supplier in my rather short career thus far. And I think there’s so many competing factors at play that it would have been next to impossible to predict the outcome!

    For example – for a client who’s just starting out or having trouble figuring out ways to improve, your observations and work might have been gold. But a time poor Marketing Manager, who doesn’t have time to revisit the brief and is battling with stakeholder deadlines, it could be incredibly frustrating that you haven’t provided what was requested.

    From your own point of view – by providing this overriding online strategy information, you’re potentially advertising your additional skills to your client. Instead of going elsewhere, they can commission the work to you because they know your capabilities. But are you also showing them that you didn’t quite understand the brief in the first place, potentially causing them to question your core skills?

    It depends on the personality, too. Some might be happy for the guidance, and appreciate the effort you’ve put in. Others might take slight offense, assuming that you’re telling them you know better.

    Sometimes, it’s impossible to know until you try! :)

    • Thank you, Emma! We are indeed lucky to have generous readers of every ilk. Your brilliant comprehensive analysis adds to our lode of valuable take-outs. And I’m not talking dim sims! Best regards, P. :)

  • It comes back to your honesty and professionalism, Paul – you knew the big ad wouldn’t work without supporting material and assumed that would be as important to others as it is to you and me. But if BPG didn’t see that importance or felt pressure for deadlines, he wouldn’t appreciate your efforts.

    In similar situations, I’ve made it clear that they need x done and ask how they want me to proceed – with the original brief or with the inclusion of x.

    But I also agree with Malcolm – suppliers not doing as asked is extremely annoying and frustrating. I’m happy for suppliers to share their wisdom and expertise but not to change actual details of the brief I give them – the worst was a designer asked to do some forms with a provided logo who actually changed the logo as well! Had she suggested improvements, we may have accepted them but making them just put me off side.

    I think you were lucky enough to have a nice BPG – he at least acknowledged you’d done work for which payment wasn’t unreasonable even if he couldn’t pay it. I’ve come across people who would take your helpfulness and drafts and use it without any acknowledgment or guilt.

    • Thank you, Tash. I really appreciate you taking the time to express your valued views. :)